Ospedale del Ceppo's anatomical theatre

The medical school of Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia was equipped with an anatomical theatre, that still exists and can be visited, built in neoclassical style in the late 18th Century.
The building of the anatomy theatre can be dated back chronologically to the decade between 1770 and 1780, when the chair of anatomy was held by Antonio Matani, to whom the plan of the room should be attributed1. The theatre met the requirements of the Grand Duke rescript, but it was also in line with the spirit of research that had characterized the Century of Enlightenment, testified in the scroll ornament drawn on the west wall: Nil tam difficile quin quaerendo investigari possit. The building of the so called theatre consists of a rectangular room of medium size, with the anatomy table in the middle and two rows of uplifted benches for the students.

Frontal view of the anatomy theatre


In the middle of the east side, in a kind of niche, was placed the seat of the teacher.

The seat of the teacher


The walls and ceiling were painted with elegant ornamental motifs: squares and architectural elements in low relief, grotesque paintings, vegetal and floral shoots. The decoration was completed by three figured medallions. In the middle of the vault a Saint (perhaps Saint Agatha) is carried to Heaven by angels.


On the east and west walls in two medaillons are portrayed Albrecht von Haller (1707-1777) and Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) from Forlì, the father of modern anatomical pathology. With regard to von Haller it should be pointed out a mistake of the author in the script that attributes to him the incorrect name of Albert Haller.


The anatomy classes with corpses were held in the anatomy theatre, which consisted of two rows of elevated desks for students: the first row provided sitting places, while the second allowed only standing places (as a whole not more than thirty places); the teacher’s seat had a ledger in front, both retaining a self-sufficient, almost cold look. In the middle (of the room) stands the anatomical table in white marble, slightly hollow, with raised edges. The walls are decorated with floral motifs, perspective plays with medical maxims such as Physiologia est animata anatome.


Next to the theatre, in a nearby room stand another dissection table, a curious wooden vice, to be used with anatomical parts to be dealt with, supposedly bones above all, and a monumental earthenware stove.


A curious thing should be noted: on the old wooden benches are carven with great accuracy names and dates of students, perhaps not following with interest the anatomy class. For example one can read the family names Dini and Biagini beside the date of 18342.

  • Photos, main text and page layout by Nazareno Varricchio ti.ecila|oihccirrav.onerazan#| and Elena Cimaroli moc.liamg|iloramic.anele#| (January 2016)



  • Alberto Cipriani e Lorenzo Cipriani, Lo Spedale del Ceppo, Gli Ori, Pistoia 2013


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